Sacred Arts: Session Eleven – Poetry and the Art of the Metaphor

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date].  In her book Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, Jane Hirshfield writes

“Poetry itself, when allowed to, becomes within us a playable organ of perception, sounding out its own forms of knowledge and forms of discovery. Poems do not simply express. They make, they find, they sound (in both meanings of that word) things undiscoverable by other means.”

Religious language – what Rev. Bill Sinkford (black, male, former UUA president) called “the language of reverence” – is full of words trying to make discoverable the undiscoverable; the very words we use are metaphors for the divine, ethics, connection, purpose. In this next session, we will encounter poetry, write poetry, and consider the power of metaphor as our way to explore meaning and connection to the world around us.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • If the spirit moves you, write a poem! It can take any form and be about anything. 
  • Engage and encounter a poem – remember to follow the process:
    • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body
    • Initial impressions. Note what you have observed.
    • Learning: learn about the poem – who wrote it, when, why, the style/school, etc.
    • Sharing: reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with this piece of poetry.

Questions for Reflection

  • In “That Which Holds All,” what metaphor about God would you choose? If you were to write your own metaphor for God, what might it be? You may need to brainstorm a list in your UU Wellspring journal to find a few that speak to you. 
  • In “Metaphors Be with You,” Meg Riley explores a more creative way to look at our differences in UU theology and life. Which “What if…” Questions might you ask  to liberate new perspectives on UUism, climate change, racism, immigration,  or other issues we face today.
  • The poetic language of our first source describes direct experience: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.“  Which words in the source suggests a description from within, as LeGuin suggests? Which words might you choose to explore the first source from the outside in? 

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session were our various views of the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia.  Here are some links for more information: 

  • Ancient History Encyclopedia: https://www.ancient.eu/Borobudur/
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Borobudur
  • UNESCO: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/592

Please take a few moments to provide feedback on sessions 6-10.

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness;be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “god is no noun” by Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, director of worship at the UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, MI (UU, black, queer, cis-male).

Note to Facilitators: 

You may read it, or play the audio found on the page linked above.

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Exercise (10-15 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

This exercise invites participants to write a haiku about a concept; twelve concepts – words – are laid out in this file: print it out, cut and fold, and put in a bowl, hat, basket, etc. to pass around. 

In his book The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within, author and actor Stephen Fry (British, white, cis-male, gay) writes

“I believe poetry is a primal impulse within us all. I believe we are all capable of it and furthermore that a small, often ignored corner of us positively yearns to try it … the private act of writing poetry is songwriting, confessional, diary-keeping, speculation, problem-solving, storytelling, therapy, anger management, craftsmanship, relaxation, concentration and spiritual adventure all in one inexpensive package.”

We’re going to try it. If you recall from Sources, we were invited to write haiku about humanism. We’re going to write haiku again, but this time we’re going to think more deeply about the metaphors. 

I am going to pass around this bowl – each slip of paper contains one word – a concept we talk about in Unitarian Universalism.  Don’t show your word to anyone else. I invite you to write a haiku (syllable count 5/7/5) that explores this concept without using the word itself. Take a few minutes to write (up to 10 minutes), and then we’ll share our haikus with one another and guess what concept you each wrote about.

After a time of writing, invite them to share their haikus and guess what the word or concept it is about. Once all have been read, invite their reflections on writing about something they couldn’t name, and any metaphors from theirs or others that particularly resonated.

Shared Observation (20 minutes):

Note to Facilitators:

You may wish to have printed (or projected) copies of the poem “Caged Bird” to look at after watching the video (link to the text here: 
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48989/caged-bird ). Be careful to hide the title – although I suspect many of the participants will already know it. 

DO NOT SHOW TITLE OF VIDEO: https://youtu.be/FIYG9zIUDF0

Today, we’ll hear a poem and engage it with our four steps:

  • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body. (3 minutes)
    (play the clip or show the image)
  • Now, I invite your initial impressions: what did you observe? (5 minutes) (This is a good time to share the words of the poem.)
  • Let me tell you about this piece:
    • This poem was written by Maya Angelou (1928–2014), one of America’s leading female contemporary poets. Angelou also wrote plays and novels, and was active in the Civil Rights movement. Angelou’s most famous work is her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
    • This poem first appeared in the collection Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? in 1983. It was inspired in part by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy,” and in part by her own difficult childhood and the broader experiences of African Americans in the mid 20th century.
    • The actress who performed the poem is Carla Renee, a performance artist, actress, and motivational speaker in the DC area. She has performed “Caged Bird” throughout the country and was featured on a PBS special.
  • Now, I invite your reflections on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making. Would anyone like to share a thought or two? (10 minutes)

Reflections (50 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to read some poetry. What poem caught your attention? What did you observe? How do you connect with this poem?
  • How do you connect with this art form? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons might this form teach you?
  • In “That Which Holds All,” what metaphor about God would you choose? If you were to write your own metaphor for God, what might it be? You may need to brainstorm a list in your UU Wellspring journal to find a few that speak to you. 
  • In “Metaphors Be with You,” Meg Riley explores a more creative way to look at our differences in UU theology and life. Which “What if…” Questions might you ask  to liberate new perspectives on UUism, climate change, racism, immigration,  or other issues we face today.
  • The poetic language of our first source describes direct experience: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.“  Which words in the source suggests a description from within, as LeGuin suggests? Which words might you choose to explore the first source from the outside in? 

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.

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